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探讨盈利性对游戏乐趣的消极影响

发布时间:2012-07-07 14:24:23 Tags:,,,

作者:Ken Williamson

大家都明白,这个图只是一个玩笑。

Loot(from gamaustra)

Loot(from gamaustra)

在《无尽的任务》中,有玩家趁角色正在捡飞龙掉落的极品装备时,截了图片,然后在图片上叠加了一个假的弹出对话框,要求玩家输入信用卡的详细信息。聪明又辛辣地讽刺了索尼在线新开的“增值”服务器。

在新服器中,玩家支付双倍月租,同时得到游戏红利作为回馈。在难度大、竞争激烈的MMO中,大多数玩家都对这个想法感到震惊,并通过大量在线反馈炮轰索尼在线娱乐。尽管如此,新服务器还是安稳运作了数年,最终,可能是首次证明了为数众多的玩家已接受付钱赢游戏的玩法。我记得,我盯着那张图片看了许久,被玩家的幽默逗乐的同时,又无法排遣早有预感的不安。但,我们多半只是摇摇头,一笑置之。

现在,没人笑了。

免费游戏和微交易是游戏业的新热词。自从Zynga和它那口Facebook斯金纳箱(游戏邦注:即Skinner Box,它是用于研究动物条件反射的实验仪器。在这里暗含“诱人成瘾”的意思。)《Farmville》从一群毫无戒心的社交网络用户中虏获了不知多少玩家,各家公司就争先恐后地涌向这股淘金潮。付费模式本身并不新鲜,在亚洲已经使用多年并且大获成功。在中国有一款名为《ZT Online》的MMO游戏,游戏中的主宰是名符其实的富豪。每个玩家只需付费一元就可以开箱子,有非常低的概率获得游戏中的极品道具。玩家要保持游戏中的优势地位,就得每天都花大量金钱去打开上千口箱子。因为新的、越来越强大的道具会定期发布,所以这是一个永无止境的过程。

这个聪明的设计利用了亚洲玩家的赌博嗜好;很高明,也很邪恶。

在西方,某些勤奋的玩家很快就发现可以从那些急需游戏金币的玩家手中,把游戏金币换成真金白银,通过灰市买卖,这类玩家也成了百万富翁。其中有一位玩家先是靠出售游戏金币的生意给自己买了房子、车子,最后又把全部生意卖出了可观的800万美元。但大多数欧美玩家回避购买游戏金币,因为他们认为这是失败者才会做的事,宁可升级和靠传统的方式获得财富。游戏公司通常也对这种游戏币买卖行为抱有消极态度,定期地对涉嫌帐号进行封号处理。

但是微交易的利润诱惑仍然存在。我曾参与开发一款MMO,在开发中期时,游戏的收费模式变成了免费模式,即道具收费。突然之间,这款传统但可能意义重大的MMO所有设定都必须由游戏的盈利状况决定。设计师不再单纯地为优良的游戏玩法苦思冥想。无论是什么玩法,都必须具有盈利潜能——系统和设定要么直接与消费挂钩,要么间接地引导玩家创造消费。在设计初衷散发出阵阵铜臭的同时,作为设计师的我们,也沦为网络皮条客。

“但那太可怕了。”我当即控诉道,“我们现在不再因为乐趣才设计游戏,而是因为存在获利的可能。这算什么呀?”

“要不你的工资怎么发得出来?”赤裸裸的回答。

之后我沉默地坐了好一阵子,厌恶和愤怒在心里燃烧着。

“在你信仰的不太光明的未来,那也许会是你的薪水来源“,我闷闷地说,“但我才不会那么掉价。”

我的话还没吐出来又被我硬吞回去了。我绝不可能像个数字时代的扒手那样欺骗和强迫玩家花钱。但我不敢保证,将来我不会某个体系的一分子,而那个体系将把我钟爱的游戏变成一系列眼花撩乱的老虎机。

但肯定的是,整个游戏行业无论是过去还是现在都要另当别论。我认为,那类设计绝不会掺入到西方的严肃游戏中。

Diablo-3(from thegamerspad.net)

Diablo-3(from thegamerspad.net)

接下来我想说说《暗黑破坏神3》

随着《暗黑》第二个续作的发行大获成功,至今这款动作RPG的专营权仍然令人垂涎不止,因为暴雪公司迈出了史无前列的一步——在游戏中引入真实金钱拍卖行,以避免与之类似的灰市商人的多年不法经营。玩家可以利用复杂的规定支付价值高于250美元的游戏道具。对于各项交易,暴雪收取15%的分成。支持者认为这挺公平的。那么,为什么不收那些声名狼藉的打金农民(游戏邦注:这些人玩游戏是为了积攒游戏货币以便随后把这些货币转让出去)的利润,然后返回给游戏的主人?

我来告诉你为什么——这会毁掉游戏,不可挽回地把游戏变成其他东西。

其他创意产业认为存在一种叫作第四堵墙的东西——媒体与观众之间存在概念上的分离。人们普遍认为,破坏这第四堵墙是不好的,因为这会破坏世界组件的完整性,而正是这些组件让另一个世界与真实世界相分离。戏剧如果没有第四堵墙的暗中保护,其魅力必定不复存在。拆除第四堵墙,也就消除了观看戏剧的理由。

与戏剧一样,电影也是这样。拆除游戏中的第四堵墙甚至会造成更糟的结果。游戏的基本乐趣是实现游戏所创造的幻想。在游戏中,玩家可以是文学作品或幻想出的英雄人物。玩家不仅仅是游戏中的过客,他们还是参与者。没人想扮演一个皮肤松垂、秃头、长相平凡的会计师;那跟现实生活中的会计师有什么区别?我们借游戏逃避现实生活,丰富现实生活,而不是复制现实生活。没人想把现实世界中存在的、令人崩溃的经济、社会和政治难题全都搬进游戏世界里。

然而,当你通过金钱交易把游戏中的经济与现实世界的经济联系起来时,上述悲剧就发生了。此时,原本只能靠在游戏努力才能获得的东西也可以借助现实世界中的经济实力获得。玩家在现实世界中越成功,在虚拟世界中也一样成功。现实与虚拟之间的实际差别荡然无存。但这种消极影响的辐射范围还不止于此。金钱是可鄙的。它带来各种不洁,像瘟疫一样让我们的世界充斥着疤痕和脓疮。在游戏世界的金钱交易中,由现实世界的经济造成的贪婪、野蛮和自私自利将游戏本身彻底吞噬了。游戏不再是游戏。游戏的魅力一去不复返。就这样,游戏成了现实世界的污垢、卑贱和邪恶中的一部分。

我并没有夸大其词。这一幕正在《暗黑3》中上演,暴雪的论坛上到处是玩家的咒骂。有些玩家甚至要求FBI调查暴雪的游戏交易情况。美国国税局可能会参与监视玩家获得的所有金钱。等到报税时,可能会出现一些令人震惊的事。对于变更游戏玩法和极大缩减玩家消费价值的道具,集体诉讼是没有实在意义的。这一切,就发生在一款(确实有趣的)游戏中,随后还会因为涌现大量黑客、打金农民、作弊者、剥削者和各类出于经济动机而不停忙活的人而发生更多问题。

游戏玩法的盈利化,其更严重的后果就是破坏游戏本身的乐趣。

在《暗黑3》中,玩了游戏一段时间后,大部分玩家都会明白游戏从设计之初,就是把他们引向拍卖行。如果不买道具,想通过最难的那道关卡,简直是天方夜谭。结果,游戏不再有趣了。这款游戏使一些人赚得盆满钵溢,也使另一些想要继续玩下去的人不得不购买天价的道具,但是,继续玩下去的唯一理由就是,找到可以拿来卖的东西。这个仅仅围绕获利而设计的系统剥夺了游戏的所有乐趣,减少了游戏原本丰富的玩法。原本能源源不断产生乐趣的交互作用,《暗黑3》却设计得这么无聊、乏味,令人失望。

将游戏金钱化的最终结果就是:迫使设计初衷与创造游戏乐趣背道而驰。虽然游戏公司这么做能获得暂时的收益,但游戏本身的品质却越来越差。

最后,我很怀疑除了打金农民,还有谁会继续玩这种游戏。

游戏邦注:原文发表于20012年4月7日,所涉事件及数据均以当时为准。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,拒绝任何不保留版权的转载,如需转载请联系:游戏邦

Monetization and the Death of Games

by Ken Williamson

It was a joke, and everybody got it.

Someone had taken a screenshot of their character attempting to loot one of the best weapons in Everquest from a fallen dragon, and superimposed a fictitious “popup” window over it requiring credit card details. It was brilliant, satirical commentary on Sony Online’s recently launched “Premium” server.

On the new server, players paid double the normal monthly fee and were rewarded with significant gameplay bonuses in return. The majority of players in what was a difficult, highly competitive MMO were appalled by the idea and let SOE know it in a torrent of scathing online feedback. Despite this, the server ran successfully for years, proving conclusively perhaps for the first time that significant numbers of players were prepared to pay to win. I remember staring at the picture for long minutes, tickled by the humour yet unable to shake a discomforting sense of the prophetic. But mostly we all laughed and shook our heads.

Noone’s laughing now.

Free-to-Play and microtransaction are the new buzzwords of the games industry. Ever since Zynga and their God-forsaken Facebook skinner box, Farmville, roped in untold millions from a deluge of unsuspecting social networkers, companies have been racing breathlessly to catch the gold rush. The payment model itself is not new, and has been used for years with massive success in Asia. One Chinese MMO ZT Online, the owner of which is a genuine billionaire, charges players 1 Yuan (~15 cents) to open chests which have a very small chance of dropping the game’s best items. Thousands must be opened every day to maintain coveted leadership positions won at high cost within the game. Because new, ever-increasingly powerful items are released at regular intervals, it’s a neverending process.

Brilliant design considering the Asian passion for gambling; brilliant, but evil.

In the West, a grey market has made millionaires out of industrious players who quickly discovered that ingame currency could be bought and sold for real money from players desperate enough to pay for it. One of the first to do so eventually sold his gold selling business for a cool USD$8 million after first buying himself a house and several performance cars with the earnings. But most players in the West eschewed buying game currency, considering it a loser’s option and preferring to gain rank and wealth the traditional way. Games companies too generally took a very dim view of the practice, and regularly banned accounts found to be involved.

But the lure of microtransaction money is insidiously persistent. One MMO I was hired to work on changed its business model mid-development to become a Free-to-Play title, funded entirely by ingame purchases. Suddenly all design features in a traditional but potentially ground breaking MMO had to be justified by how they could be monetized. Designers could no longer simply come up with good gameplay. It had to be exploitable gameplay – systems and features that were either directly monetizable, or which funneled players toward those that were. In one foul, fetid swoop we went from game designers to online casino pimps.

“But that’s awful,” I complained at the time. “We now can’t design things because they are fun. We have to design them because they are potentially profitable. What is that?”

“That’s what pays your salary,” was the blunt reply.

I sat mutely for a long time afterwards, smouldering with distaste and anger.

“That may be what pays your wage in the dystopian future you so cheaply and easily embrace”, I fumed internally, “but it’s not what is going to pay mine.”

I swallowed the words before they could jump out of my mouth, but there was no way I was going to live on money tricked and coerced out of people dishonourably like a digital pickpocket. I sure wasn’t going to be part of a system that turned the games I loved into a series of colourful slot machines.

But surely the industry as a whole was – is – different. That sort of design would never fly in the West in serious games, I reasoned.

And then there was Diablo 3.

With the release of the second sequel in their wildly successful, and up until now passionately admired action RPG franchise, Blizzard made the unprecedented move of introducing a real money auction house. The RMAH, as it is known, allows players to buy and sell game gold and items for real money, by-passing the grey marketers who have been conducting similar transactions illegally for years. Players can – and do with perplexing regularity – pay up to USD$250 for single game items. Each transaction Blizzard accrues a 15 percent cut. Fair enough, supporters say. Why not take the profit away from the shady gold farmers and put it back into the hands of the game’s owners where it arguably belongs?

I’ll tell you why – it destroys the game, changing it irreparably into something else.

Other creative industries recognise something called the fourth wall – a conceptual separation between the medium and the audience. Breaking the fourth wall is recognized almost universally as bad because doing so ruptures the integrity of the piece which exists in a world apart from the real one. The power of the drama is only maintained within the metaphor guarded by the fourth wall. Remove it, and you remove the reason for watching.

As bad as breaking the fourth wall is in theatre or movies, in games it is much worse. A fundamental joy of gaming is living out the fantasies they create. In games, players can be heroic figures from literature and myth and imagination. They are not merely passengers, they are participants. Noone wants to play a sagging, balding, ordinary looking accountant living a mundane 9 to 5 existence; not if that’s what they are in real life. We play games to escape from, and to enrich our real lives, not to reproduce them. Noone wants to drag all the desperate economic, social, and political problems from the real world into their gameplay.

Yet that is exactly what happens when you connect ingame economies to real world economics through money transactions. Suddenly what was only gained by ingame effort is gained by real world economic power. The more successful you are in the real world, the more successful you can be in the virtual one as well, removing any effective difference between them. But the real implication is even more serious. Money is grubby. It is smudged and greased with all sorts of uncleanesses that plague our world. The avarice and brutal self interest created by real world economics get sucked directly into the games that trade on money. They become something other than just games. They are emasculated and disempowered of their charm. They become part of the dirt, the menial, and the menace of the real world.

This isn’t just hyperbole. The truth of it is already playing out in D3 and players are revolting in droves, filling Blizzard forums with new levels of venom. Some have complained to the FBI over Blizzard’s handling of the ingame transactions. The IRS may become involved and keep watch over all monies gained by players. There could be some nasty shocks come tax time, as a result. Class action lawsuits have been mooted over changes to gameplay and items that have significantly reduced the value of player purchases. At least one Asian country has banned the operation of the RMAH entirely after an outcry from gamers there. All this in what began as a (really enjoyable) game. And then there are the many, many problems caused by hackers, gold farmers, cheaters, exploiters, and botters who have been given enormous impetus to do more of what they do by the promise of (now legitimate) financial gain.

Yet the end of such brutal monetization of gameplay is something much worse. The inevitable final result is a reduction of games themselves.

In D3, it is clear to most players after some time playing that the game has been designed from the ground up and tuned to lead them toward the auction houses. It just isn’t realistically possible to progress to the game’s most difficult levels without resorting to buying items. The game itself is no longer fun just to play as a result. It’s a money spinner for some who use it as a way to generate income, and a compulsion for others who feel driven to buy outrageously priced items in order to progress, but the only reason left to play becomes the lure of finding such items to sell. The systems which have been designed to lead to this singular notion of profitability have removed all the joy, the delight, and the enrichment from the gameplay. Where previous iterations were enduring fun, D3 is dull, tedious, and frustrating – and this by design.

All such game monetization has this ultimate result: it forces design in a direction which is antithetical to fun. While companies may get temporarily richer, the games themselves get increasingly poorer.

In the end, I wonder who beyond the gold farmers will be left to play them.(source:gamasutra)


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